Inquiry Based Instructional Model
To intertwine scientific knowledge and practices and to empower students to learn through exploration, it is essential for scientific inquiry to be embedded in science education. While there are many types of inquiry-based models, one model that I've grown to appreciate and use is called the FERA Learning Cycle, developed by the National Science Resources Center (NSRC):
A framework for implementation can be found here.
I absolutely love how the Center for Inquiry Science at the Institute for Systems Biology explains that this is "not a locked-step method" but "rather a cyclical process," meaning that some lessons may start off at the focus phase while others may begin at the explore phase.
Finally, an amazing article found at Edudemic.com, How Inquiry-Based Learning Works with STEM,very clearly outlines how inquiry based learning "paves the way for effective learning in science" and supports College and Career Readiness, particularly in the area of STEM career choices.
In this unit, students will first develop an understanding of the biotic and abiotic factors within ecosystems, the characteristics and classification of living organisms, and how plants and animals obtain and use energy to fulfill their needs.
Then, students will delve deeper into the NGSS standards by examining the interdependent relationships within an ecosystem by studying movement of matter between producers, consumers, and decomposers by creating models of food chains and food webs.
At the end of this unit, students will study ways that individual communities can use science ideas to protect the Earth's resources and environment.
Summary of Lesson
Today, I will open the lesson with a class discussion and poster about the interactions of abiotic and biotic factors within the aquarium portion of their ecocolumns. After discussing and taking notes on the abiotic factors (with teacher guidance), students will then explore the biotic factors by reading the provided texts. Tomorrow, students will reflect on and apply their research by returning to the class poster and discussing their findings!
Next Generation Science Standards
This lesson will support the following NGSS Standard(s):
5-PS3-1. Use models to describe that energy in animals’ food (used for body repair, growth, motion, and to maintain body warmth) was once energy from the sun.
5-LS1-1. Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water.
5-LS2-1. Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.
5-ESS3-1. Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment.
Scientific & Engineering Practices
For this lesson, students are engaged in the following Science & Engineering Practice:
Science & Engineering Practice 8: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
Students will read and comprehend complex texts. (Even though the texts are around the 850 Lexile level and within the 5th grade reading grade level band, there are many new and complex vocabulary within these texts, such as carbon dioxide, chlorophyl, respiration, and photosynthesis). Students will obtain ideas about the biotic factors through this research process.
To relate ideas across disciplinary content, during this lesson I focus on the following Crosscutting Concept:
Crosscutting Concept 4: Systems and System Models
Students will study individual parts within an ecosystem (biotic and abiotic factors) and how the functions of the individual parts impact the whole system.
Disciplinary Core Ideas
In addition, this lesson also aligns with the following Disciplinary Core Ideas:
PS3.D: Energy in Chemical Processes and Everyday Life
The energy released [from] food was once energy from the sun that was captured by plants in the chemical process that forms plant matter (from air and water). (5-PS3-1)
LS1.C: Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms
Food provides animals with the materials they need for body repair and growth and the energy they need to maintain body warmth and for motion. (secondary to 5-PS3-1)
Plants acquire their material for growth chiefly from air and water. (5-LS1-1)
LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems
The food of almost any kind of animal can be §traced back to plants. Organisms are related in food webs in which some animals eat plants for food and other animals eat the animals that eat plants. Some organisms, such as fungi and bacteria, break down dead organisms (both plants or plants parts and animals) and therefore operate as “decomposers.” Decomposition eventually restores (recycles) some materials back to the soil. Organisms can survive only in environments in which their particular needs are met. A healthy ecosystem is one in which multiple species of different types are each able to meet their needs in a relatively stable web of life. Newly introduced species can damage the balance of an ecosystem. (5-LS2-1)
LS2.B: Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems
Matter cycles between the air and soil and among plants, animals, and microbes as these organisms live and die. Organisms obtain gases, and water, from the environment, and release waste matter (gas, liquid, or solid) back into the environment. (5-LS2-1)
To add depth to student understanding, when I can, I'll often integrate ELA standards with science lessons. Today, students will work on meeting CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.1: Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text. Students will be encouraged to find exact details from the text that support our research question, "How do biotic and abiotic factors interact in an ecosystem?"
Choosing Science Teams
With science, it is often difficult to find a balance between providing students with as many hands-on experiences as possible, having plenty of science materials, and offering students a collaborative setting to solve problems. Any time groups have four or more students, the opportunities for individual students to speak and take part in the exploration process decreases. With groups of two, I often struggle to find enough science materials to go around. So this year, I chose to place students in teams of three! Picking science teams is always easy as I already have students placed in desk groups based upon behavior, abilities, and communication skills. Each desk group has about six kids, so I simply divide this larger group in half.
Gathering Supplies & Assigning Roles
To encourage a smooth running classroom, I ask students to decide who is a 1, 2, or 3 in their groups of three students (without talking). In no time, each student has a number in the air. I'll then ask the "threes" to get certain supplies, "ones" to grab their computers, and "twos" to hand out papers (or whatever is needed for the lesson). This management strategy has proven to be effective when cleaning up and returning supplies as well!
Lesson Introduction & Goal
After inviting students to join me on the front carpet with their science journals, I introduce today's learning goal: I can examine the interactions between biotic and abiotic factors within an ecosystem. I explain: Yesterday, you built your own beautiful ecosystem models! (Class Ecocolumns) Today, let's get to know the ecosystems better by studying how the biotic and abiotic factors are interacting!
Biotic & Abiotic Poster
I want to inspire interest in today's lesson and capitalize on student curiosity, so I turn to my Biotic & Abiotic Factors Poster and pose an authentic question: How do biotic and abiotic factors interact in an ecosystem? I explain that interact means "act in such a way a to have an effect."
Let's take a look at the aquarium in our ecocolumns. I purposefully ask students to focus on the aquarium as we have not added our beetles to the terrarium portion. We'll want to complete an investigation using the beetles before adding them!
What are the abiotic factors that are impacting our ecocolumns as we speak? Turn & Talk! After students have some time to discuss, hands shoot up in the air! Students suggest rocks, pebbles, yarn, water, dead leaves, air, plastic, and sunlight.
I pull out four of the most important factors mentioned and rewrite them in the four boxes on the abiotic side of the poster: rocks, water, air, and sunlight.
One at a time, we then discuss and take notes on each of these abiotic factors: Abiotic Factors Poster. While I take notes on the poster, students record their notes in their journals: Student Notes on Abiotic Factors.
Teacher Note: While students haven't specifically researched the interactions of rocks, water, air, and sunlight in ecosystems, they are able to share their experiences and previous knowledge. I guide this conversation by asking questions, such as, How might fish use rocks to reproduce? (rocks provide a place for the fish to lay eggs). Other times, I insert a fact here and there: An important fact to know about rocks its that they also provide a home for bacteria (or a place for bacteria to grow).
Deepening the Class Discussion
With each abiotic factor, I intermix new ideas in with student ideas. For example, students point out that the rocks help provide support to the elodea and that they provide shelter for the fish. I guide students to begin thinking deeper about all aquatic ecosystems. We discuss how rocks sometimes provide a place for fish to lay eggs. We also talk about what students can't see... the bacteria already multiplying on the rocks in their aquarium!
By categorizing information using a graphic-organizer poster, scientific concepts become easier for students to grasp (especially those who need visual aids and a poster to constantly refer to).
Now that we have discussed the importance of abiotic factors as a class, let's take a the biotic factors. Turn and talk.... what biotic factors are present in your aquariums? As students suggest the biotic factors, I write them in the four boxes on the "Biotic Factors" side of the poster: Biotic Factors on Poster: Snail, Goldfish, Elodea, and Duckweed.
Then, I pose the research question: How are the biotic factors in our aquariums interacting with the other living organisms and the abiotic factors? Why are the biotic factors so important to our ecosystems?
To set students up for success, I find two sources ahead of time for students to read. This amazing resource (pages 31-34) provides students with information on elodea, duckweed, and snails while this resource provides information on goldfish. I have discovered that it's often difficult for students to efficiently find helpful and student-friendly resources within a science period. I show students how to organize their notes by dividing a new page in their science journal into fourths (just as we did with abiotic factors). Next, I email students the link and they are ready to go! Here's an example of what student notes will look like at the end of this time: Student Notes on Biotic Factors.
Monitoring Student Understanding
Once students begin working, I conference with every group. My goal is to support students by asking guiding questions (listed below). I also want to encourage students to engage in Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence.
Here are a few examples of student conferences during this time:
Here, Students Reading about Duckweed, students discover how duckweed is an important food source for animals. Then, I try to help the students connect their research with their ecosystem models. This helps make the text more meaningful to students!
During this conference, Students Researching Aquatic Plants, the students find that both elodea and duckweed provide food and shelter for many animals. I then point out another sentence referring the fact that plants support "a healthy exchange of gas" within the ecosystem. As part of the 5th grade NGSS standards, it is important for students to be able to describe how matter (including oxygen) moves among producers, consumers, and decomposers.
Tomorrow, we will work together as a class to complete the rest of our Biotic Factors on Poster, using the information students gathered during their research! This will provide students with the opportunity to reflect on and apply their learning.